Case Study Research

Cover of Case Study Research

Core Skill Sets in Using 15 Genres



Table of contents

(24 chapters)

This chapter provides a new definition for case study research (CSR). Achieving a deep understanding of processes and other concept variables, such as participants' self perceptions (an “emic view” of what's happening and “why I did what I did”) of their own thinking processes, intentions, and contextual influences, is identified as the principal objective of CSR. Using multiple methods to “triangulate” (i.e., confirm and deepen understanding by using multiple sources all focusing on the same process/event) within the same case is described.

This chapter describes core criticisms made by case study researchers of large sample surveys. A need exists for a paradigm shift in research on organizational behavior (including modeling the history of new product performance). The chapter outlines the significant weaknesses of CSR as seen by other researchers. The chapter examines Senge's (1990) core propositions related to the “mental models” of decision participants. Details illustrate the use of specific research methods for case studies to achieve different research objectives and the combination of objectives. Finally, the chapter illustrates basic concept variables in case studies and briefly reviews twelve propositions relevant in many case research studies. This chapter reviews classic and recent contributions to the literature of CSR.


Chapter 2 describes how behavioral science research methods that management and marketing scholars apply in studying processes involving decisions and organizational outcomes relate to three principal research objectives: fulfilling generality of findings, achieving accuracy of process actions and outcomes, and capturing complexity of nuances and conditions. The chapter's unique contribution is in advocating and describing the possibilities of researchers replacing Thorngate's (1976) “postulate of commensurate complexity” — it is impossible for a theory of social behavior to be simultaneously general, accurate, and simple and as a result organizational theorists inevitably have to make tradeoffs in their theory development — with a new postulate of disproportionate achievement. This new postulate proposes the possibilities and advocates the building and testing of useful process models that achieve all three principal research objectives. Rather than assuming the stance that a researcher must make tradeoffs that permit achieving any two, but not all three, principal research objectives as, Weick (1979) clock analogy shows, this chapter advocates embracing a property space (a three-dimensional box rather than a clock) view of research objectives and research methods. Tradeoffs need not be made; having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too is possible. The chapter includes a brief review of principal criticisms that case study researchers often express of surveys of respondents using fixed-point surveys. Likewise, the chapter reviews principal criticisms of case study research studies that researchers who favor the use of fixed-point surveys express.


Case study research frequently includes collecting and interpreting stories individuals tell about their lives and event that they believe that they know about. Chapter 3 discusses storytelling theory and describes case study research in consumer behavior of stories that consumers tell about buying and using products and services. Storytelling is pervasive through life. Much information is stored, indexed, and retrieved in the form of stories. Although lectures tend to put people to sleep, stories move them to action. People relate to each other in terms of stories — and products and brands often play both central and peripheral roles in their stories. To aid storytelling research in consumer psychology, this chapter develops a narrative theory that describes how consumers use brands as props or anthropomorphic actors in stories they report about themselves and others. Such drama enactments enable these storytellers to experience powerful myths that reflect psychological archetypes. The chapter includes findings from case study research that probes propositions of the theory. Implications for consumer psychology and marketing practice follow the discussion of the findings.


Chapter 4 shows and tells how to create visual art to achieve deep understanding about stories that individuals tell. Creating visual narrative art (VNA) of stories achieves several objectives. First, creating VNA revises and deepens sense-making of the meaning of events in the story and what the complete story implies about oneself and others. Second, creating VNA surfaces unconscious thinking of the protagonist and other actors in the story as well as the storyteller (recognizing that in many presentations of stories an actor in the story is also the storyteller); unconscious thinking in stories relating to consumer and brand experiences reflect one or more archetype (Jung 1916/1959) fulfillments by the protagonist and the storyteller; given that almost all authors agree on a distinction between processes that are unconscious, rapid, automatic, and high capacity, (System 1 processing) and those that are conscious, slow, and deliberative (System 2 processing, see Evans, 2008), VNA enables and enriches processing particularly relating to system 1 processing–enabling more emotional versus rational processing. Third, creating VNA of stories is inherently and uniquely fulfilling/ pleasurable/healing for the artist; using visual media allows artists to express emotions of the protagonist and/or audience member, to vent anger, or report bliss about events and outcomes that words alone cannot communicate; VNA provides a tangible, emotional, and holistic (gestalt) experience that is uniquely satisfying and does so in a form that many audience members enjoy over and over again. Chapter 4 elaborates on the rationales for its central proposition, briefly reviews relevant literature on VNA, and illustrates one mode of VNA for the complementary stories told by a consumer and brand.


Research findings support the view that a multiple methods approach is necessary to surface the substantial amount of relevant thinking processes that occur both consciously and unconsciously within different phases of consumer decision making. Chapter 5 advocates viewing all studies that ask informants questions as representative of researcher–informant introspections. Because answers to questions differ substantially depending on how the questions are framed, applying multiple, explicit, question frames to acquire conscious and unconscious thoughts in researcher–informant introspections is helpful. This chapter reviews multiple methods, including metaphor elicitation of unconscious thinking, useful for achieving and confirming thick descriptions of conscious and unconscious thinking associated with informants’ deep-seated beliefs and observable actions.


Naïve subjective personal introspection includes the failure to recognize the confirmability of one's own attitudes and personal meanings learned explicitly from self-examining such topics and explaining one's own behavior. Unconscious/conscious theory of behavior explanation follows from unifying the research on unintended thought–behavior with folk explanations of behavior. Chapter 6 describes advances in research confirming own attitudes and personal meaning and suggests the need for applying multiple methods to overcome the fundamental attribution error, inherent cultural prejudices, and the general bias toward self-fabrication. The discussion is valuable for achieving a deep understanding of how customers think, advancing from subjective to confirmatory personal introspection, and understanding the need to apply research tools useful for enlightening knowledge and overcoming the inherent bias within subjective personal introspection.


Chapter 7 describes research tools that permit zoomorphistic explications of self-viewing of human self-behavior in terms of the behavior of animals. Transference theory, archetypal, culture, and early experiences propositions also serve to inform the etic interpretations of an informant's zoomorphistic self-report. The chapter describes applications of the forced metaphor-elicitation technique (FMET) that provides case study data including storytelling and paradox resolution by informants. The chapter closes by advocating acceptance of Gigerenzer's proposal that method can drive theory advancement. The discussion reviews relevant literature on examining dual thinking processes by humans — implicit and explicit beliefs, attitudes, decision processes, and behavior. The research evidence helps to decode consumers’ implicit thinking and behavior toward products and brands; such evidence serves to inform ourselves and brand executives of consumers’ dreams about brands and how such dreams become reality — or what prevents consumers from buying the brands playing roles in consumers’ stories crafted through implicit thinking.


This chapter examines the topic of internal branding from an organizational/behavioral science perspective, theoretically and empirically investigating how organizational members actually enact corporate brands. A mixed method research procedure serves to surface conscious (i.e., deliberate) and unconscious (i.e., tacit) internal brand meaning enactments in an internationally operating Austrian corporate business-to-business brand. The results are evidence of the potential complexity of real-life internal branding processes that limit the possibility of achieving a cohesive intended internal implementation of corporate brands. The chapter concludes with the managerial implication that purposeful managerial interventions necessitate an understanding of the social system that is the target of an internal branding initiative.


A book on case study research would be remiss without a chapter that introduces the reader to relevant literature on personal exchanges and face-to-face talk. Chapter 9 offers a conceptual property–space analysis for theory and research on personal exchanges including talk. The chapter describes a study on face-to-face conversation analysis (i.e., talk) in a buyer–seller context. The study includes examining forty transactions between actual insurance salespersons (n=3) and prospective clients (n=57) interacting in field settings. The chapter reports the relationships between purchase behavior and the frequency of key orientation and bargaining statements made by the salespersons and customers. The findings support the importance of studying social factors, influence, and situation variables in constructing a general conceptualization of exchange relationships.


This chapter describes how to do variable-based analysis of cases of two-person conversations. The chapter makes use of the same data that Chapter 9 describes. Here, the study examines 40 transactions between actual insurance salespersons (n = 3) and prospective clients (n = 57) interacting in field settings. The study describes conversations among purchase behavior and the frequency of key orientation and bargaining statements made by the salespersons and customers. The findings support the high value in studying social factors, influence attempts, and situation variables in constructing a general conceptualization of exchange relationships.


A central finding in the relationship marketing/buying literature is that the thought and decision processes by both marketers and buyers include a series of branching, if-then, questions and answers. For example, will customer X accept a 7 percent price increase? The correct answer: acceptance depends on the changes in the other attributes on the table (i.e., in the bid proposal or product–service design). Consequently, from designing and evaluating bid-purchase proposals to evaluating the current state of the overall seller–buyer relationship, the perceived value of the level of any given attribute depends in part of the value perceived in the levels of several other attributes. Possibly, business-to-business decisions and outcomes may be understood best by constructing thick descriptions of the multiple contingency paths that marketers and buyers think about and sometimes enact when deciding. Chapter 10 reports the use of two “think aloud” methods to learn the contingency thoughts and decisions of marketers and buyers of industrial solvents. The main conclusions of the study: designing generalized “gatekeeping,” contingency, models of if-then decision paths can be achieved; these models are useful for constructing accurate behavioral theories of marketer–buyer relationships.


Means-end chain (MEC) theory proposes that knowledge held in individuals’ memory is organized in a hierarchy with concrete thoughts linked to more abstract thoughts in a sequence progressing from means (i.e., brands and product features) to psychological and social consequences and finally to ends (i.e., fulfillment of personal values). This chapter proposes several advances in the theory. First, specific buying and consumption situations serve as frames of reference when consumers are thinking about products and alternative features of products and brands. Second, states of psychological imbalance may occur in consumers’ minds among linkages retrieved automatically for features/ consequences and consequences/values; thus, Heider's balance theory incorporates MEC theory and research. The theoretical and practical usefulness of means-end research increases by asking consumers to name an acceptable alternative to the product and brand used in a recent consumption situation, as well as an unacceptable option and to describe the features/consequences/values of these options. Consequently, alternative relationships of consumer/brands (e.g., casual friendships, marriages, enmities) become relevant for MEC theory. To examine the propositions empirically, this chapter describes psychological schemata for four MECs that combine two consumers’ recent consumption situations with personal values.


A valuable, although little-used, case data analysis technique, degrees-of-freedom analysis (DFA), is the subject of Chapter 12. Given the richness of case data and its prevalence in business marketing research, DFA has the potential to become an important addition to one's “research workbench.” Donald Campbell (1975) first proposed this theory testing.

This chapter presents three business-to-business marketing applications; the first two involve use of the technique to compare the extent to which four theories of group decision making are manifested in organizations. The third application illustrates how the technique is useful for theory development in the context of manufacturer–distributor relationships. The contribution is in demonstrating how researchers can link “traditional” (i.e., logical positivistic) hypothesis testing procedures to examine theoretical propositions in case study research. This approach is one way of achieving a critical test (Carlsmith, Ellsworth, & Aronson, 1976), that is, testing the relative empirical strengths of competing theories. The chapter highlights the value of generalizing case data to theory versus the inappropriate attempt to generalize such data to a population (Yin, 1994). The explication and demonstration of this technique is not available elsewhere to the degree that Chapter 12 provides.


The long interview is an intensive questioning of informants selected for their special knowledge, experiences and insights (or ignorance) of the topic under study. The objectives of the long interview include learning the thinking, feeling, and doing processes of the informants, including an understanding of the informants' worldviews of the topic under study in their own language. The chapter compares the strengths and weaknesses of the long interview to other primary data collection methods. The chapter describes a research application of the long interview in integrated marketing. The study was designed to (a) learn about the rich complexities in the lives of household gardeners buying and using seeds plants after responding to direct marketing appeals and (b) resolve two conflicting “theories-in-use” of how and why different customer types purchase products. These competing theories were proposed by different executives in the firm sponsoring the study. The development and critical testing of competing theories-in-use are described. This chapter reports a study to learn the behavior of five customer types. The results include thick descriptions of the processes of buying and using seeds and plants purchased through direct marketing offers and store visits.


Micro-tipping point (MTP) theory includes the proposal that a specific stream of unconscious and conscious thoughts result in a go/no-go discretionary action in a given context (e.g., whether or not to visit a given destination in a given season or year involving particular persons being included or excluded from the trip; whether to buy a Ford, BMW, or Toyota). The specific stream represents a stream or conjunctive combination of thoughts-in-context that results in a tourist party actually taking the steps that include booking the trip and experiencing a destination first-hand. Building such contingency models that are applicable to real-life combinations of unconscious and conscious thinking requires collecting data from informants on both implicit and explicit beliefs, attitudes, and thinking rules relevant for a specific yes/no context. Chapter 14 illustrates applying the long interview for collecting such data and using quantitative comparative analysis for constructing MTP models.


At its best, participation observation (PO) includes the researcher living inside a formal or informal organization long enough to actually observe first-hand how the organization makes sense of its environment, frames problems and opportunities, plans and performs actions, evaluates outcomes, rewards and punishes its members, and celebrates and commiserates sacred, climatic, and/or exceptional events. The core feature of PO is being there — the researcher's presence in the same context as participants as events happen and not relying mostly on participants retrospections about what happened and the causes and consequences of what happened. In some studies PO data collection occurs unobtrusively — the researcher does not inform the organizations’ participants that she is conducting a study of their thinking and behavior — for example, in The Tearoom Trade (Humphreys, 1970) the researcher becomes a “watch queen” (lookout watching for police) in a men's room in park while others engage in homosexual acts; in The Informant (Eichenwald, 2000) an executive in an international manufacturing firm becomes an undercover researcher (with hidden cameras and listening devices) to collect data showing his colleagues planning and doing illegal price-fixing deals with executives in other firms. In most studies PO data collection is obtrusive with the organizations’ members knowing that a researcher is present for the purposes of observing, describing, and explaining what is occurring in the organization — for example, in Coming of Age in Samoa (Mead, 1943) the American researcher lived among the natives in the south Pacific island to describe rituals relating to the transformation of child to adult; in The Used Car Game (Browne, 1976) the researcher directly observed interactions of salesmen, customers, and sales managers for seven-to-ten hours a day for 15 months with all participants knowing that the researcher was “being there” to collect data to describe and understand their thinking and behavior. The intent for this chapter is not to present a full review of the PO literature; the focus here is to illustrate an obtrusive PO study in a formal organizational context in-depth. The main goals include (1) illustrating doing PO and (2) describing the value of PO research. This chapter serves to introduce the reader to relevant organizational PO literature and provides details of applying participant observation to the study of organizational behavior. The study applies an ethnographic approach to develop flow diagrams of the information processes and decision-making stages of corporate and plant executives in developing corporate purchasing agreements with suppliers. Participant observations of the processes to develop corporate purchasing agreements were conducted along with extensive personal interviews of plant buyers at seven plant locations of Epsilon Corporation — a multinational electronics firm with headquarter offices in New York City. The results indicate that valid and useful descriptions are possible of the information processes and decisions actually used to produce corporate purchasing agreements. Several diagnostic comments are provided to each of the four phases in the processes used to develop corporate purchasing agreements. A template for applying participant observation methods in case study research concludes the chapter.


Chapter 16 is an introduction to systems thinking and analyzing the system dynamics of relationships within an organization or between organizations. Systems thinking builds on the propositions that (1) all variables or conditions have both dependent and independent relationships, (2) lag effects occur in relationships, (3) feedback relationships occur (e.g., A→B→C→A), and (4) seemingly minor relationships (i.e., “hidden demons”) have huge influence in causing a set of relationships (i.e., a system) to implode or explode. The propositions of building and testing a set of relationships apply in many contexts; this chapter examines systems thinking and system dynamics in one context as an introduction to this stream of case study research. Hall (1976) provides details of an advanced application of systems dynamics research – do not be fooled by the date of the study; Hall (1976) is an exceptional up-to-date case research study using system dynamics modeling. This chapter describes the issues and criticisms concerning golf, tourism, and the environment and considers how golf–tourism–environment relationships might achieve economic well-being for a region while avoiding vicious cycles of destruction to local environments and the quality of life of local residents. The examination proposes the use of systems thinking, cause mapping, and system dynamics modeling and simulations of golf, tourism, and environmental relationships to help achieve workable solutions agreeable to all stakeholders. Sustainable relationships that include golf, tourism, and environmental objectives require crafting government policies via stakeholder participation of all parties that such relationships affect – recognizing and enabling this requirement needs to be done explicitly – to reduce conflicts among stakeholders and avoid system failures.


The traditional and still dominant logic among nearly all empirical positivist researchers in schools of management is to write symmetric (two-directional) variable hypotheses (SVH) even though the same researchers formulate their behavioral theories at the case (typology) identification level. Cyert and March’s (1963), Cyert, R. M., & March, J. G. (1963). A behavioral theory of the firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall), Howard and Sheth’s (1969, Howard, J. A., & Sheth, J. N. (1969). The theory of buyer behavior. New York, NY: Wiley), and Miles, R. E., & Snow, C. C.’s (1978, Miles, R. E., & Snow, C. C. (1978). Organizational strategy, structure, and process. [A. D. Meyer, collaborator; H. J. Coleman Jr., contributor]. New York, NY: McGraw Hill) typologies of organizations’ strategy configurations (e.g., “Prospectors, Analyzers, and Defenders”) are iconic examples of formulating theory at the case identification level. When testing such theories, most researchers automatically, nonconsciously, switch from building theory of beliefs, attitudes, and behavior at the case identification level to empirically testing of two-directional relationships and additive net-effect influences of variables. Formulating theory focusing on creating case identification hypotheses (CIH) to describe, explain, and predict behavior and then empirically testing at SVH is a mismatch and results in shallow data analysis and frequently inaccurate contributions to theory. This chapter describes the mismatch and resulting unattractive outcomes as well as the pervasive practice of examining only fit validity in empirical studies using symmetric tests. The chapter reviews studies in the literature showing how matching both case-based theory and empirical positivist research of CIH is possible and produces findings that advance useful theory and critical thinking by executives and researchers.


Prior reports on theory and research focusing on describing and explaining national cultural influences on purchase and consumption behavior use a net effects approach (i.e., theory and analysis relying on main and interaction effects via statistical analysis). Theory and research in this chapter advances qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) of a configuration perspective of culture's consequences on consumption behavior. This research informs the view that national cultures represent causal recipes (conjunctions) of cultural values; the study of main and interaction effects offer meager representations of national culture's consequences in comparison to adopting a cultural configuration stance. The configuration research here includes transforming Hofstede's country cultural scores into fuzzy set values and applying Boolean algebra to estimate the relevancy of alternative cultural configurations for each of 14 nations to consuming experiences during visits to Australia. The findings support primary and additional hypotheses that specific cultural configurations are sufficient (but not necessary) for describing substantial culture's consequences on consuming tourism experiences. For example, the animus (i.e., Carl Jung's unconscious masculine personality-force) configuration — the combination of high power (P), high individualism (I), high masculine (M), and low uncertainty avoidance (∼U) (i.e., P·I·M·∼U) — is sufficient in indicating not-shopping-for-gifts while visiting Australia. Western national cultures (e.g., United States) have higher fuzzy set scores than Eastern national cultures (e.g., Japan) for the animus configuration.


This chapter shows how to construct and test case-based macro models. The chapter makes use of national data to examine influences on quality-of-life of national cultures as complex wholes and entrepreneurship activities in Brazil, Russia, India, China, Germany, and the United States (the six focal nations) plus Denmark (a small-size, economically developed, nation). The study tests McClelland’s (1961) and more recent scholars’ proposition that some cultural configurations nurture entrepreneur startups, while other cultures are biased toward thwarting startups. The study applies complexity theory to develop and empirically test a general theory of cultures’, entrepreneurship’s, and innovation’s impact on quality-of-life across nations. Because culture represents a complex whole of attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior, the study applies a set-theoretic approach to theory development and testing of alternative cultural configurations. Each of 28 economical developed and developing nations is scored for the level of the national cultures for each of six focal countries. The study selected for the study enables multi-way comparisons of culture-entrepreneurship-innovation-QOL among large- and small-sized developing and developed nations. The findings graphically present the complex national cultural configuration (x-axis) with entrepreneur nurture/thwart (y-axis) of the 28 nations compared to the six focal nations. The findings also include recognizing national cultures (e.g., Switzerland, the United States) nurturing entrepreneurial behavior versus other national cultures (e.g., Brazil and India) thwarting entrepreneurial behavior. The study concludes with a call to recognize the implicit shift in culturally implicit thinking and behavior necessary for advancing national platforms designed to successfully nurture entrepreneurship. Entrepreneur strategy implications include the observation that actions nurturing firm start-ups by nations low in entrepreneurship will unlikely to be successful without reducing such nations’ high levels of corruption.


Chapter 18 closes the book with twelve principles relevant for doing case study research. The chapter includes brief discussions of specific must-read literature for each principle. The discussion also emphasizes that accuracy (validity) comes first, not generality. The chapter emphasizes that the dominant logic in seeking generality by using surveys whereby informants write-out answers, tick boxes, and never have the opportunity to answer questions that they themselves frame fails to deliver accuracy except possibly when informants are describing evaluating their own recent experiences (see Chapter 2 for further details). The following key thoughts signify the twelve principles:

  • Configural not net effects

  • Unconscious not conscious thinking

  • Dynamic not cross sectional designs

  • Multiple routes not one model only

  • Predictive validity not only a best fitting model

  • Context not context free

  • Conjunctive-disjunctive not compensatory decision-making

  • Systems thinking not independent versus dependent conditions

  • Multi-person not one-person

  • Satisfy not optimize decisions

  • Unobtrusive evidence not just obtrusive interviews or observations

  • Visual not just verbal data collection and interpretation.

Configural not net effects

Unconscious not conscious thinking

Dynamic not cross sectional designs

Multiple routes not one model only

Predictive validity not only a best fitting model

Context not context free

Conjunctive-disjunctive not compensatory decision-making

Systems thinking not independent versus dependent conditions

Multi-person not one-person

Satisfy not optimize decisions

Unobtrusive evidence not just obtrusive interviews or observations

Visual not just verbal data collection and interpretation.

If we are concerned about the imprecision of case studies as research data, we can console ourselves by noting that a man named Darwin was able to write about a study of the Galapagos Islands and a few other cases. To the best of my recollection, there are not statistics in Darwin's book (Simon, 1991, p. 128).

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